Why aircraft carriers may be good for parking cars but not landing new jets
Sailors' cars fill the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during transit up the U.S. West Coast.
January 16th, 2012
11:33 AM ET

Why aircraft carriers may be good for parking cars but not landing new jets

As this third week in January starts, we're learning three things about the U.S. military aircraft carrier program:

- The Pentagon may be looking at reducing the number of carriers in the U.S. fleet from 11 to 10 to save money.

- The military's new F-35C Joint Strike Fighter may not be suitable for carrier use.

- Aircraft carriers make fine automobile transports.

On the first point, The Washington Times reports, citing unnamed sources, that the U.S. Navy may be trying to cut one of its 11 carriers to save money.

Congress has mandated by law that the Navy maintain 11 carriers. But the Pentagon is also under orders from the Obama administration to cut $488 billion from its budget within the next 10 years, Rowan Scarborough reports in the Times.

Cutting a carrier, along with the other forces that make up and support a carrier battle group, could save the Navy billions of dollars, according to the Times report.

An F-35C test aircraft launches from a test catapult in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

As for the F-35C, reports have begun circulating that the aircraft the military says is "the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used by so many warfighters across the globe" won't be able to land on aircraft carriers, apparently because its tailhook is too short and is situated too close to its landing gear for the plane to properly grab the arresting cables that enable planes to land on aircraft carriers.

The report was first seen last week on the website aviationintel.com and was backed up by a report in London's Sunday Times that has been picked up by press across Britain.

Aviationintel.com reported that the design flaw is not fixable because there's just not enough space on the belly of the F-35C to move the tailhook back.

British naval sources said the flaws could place the entire JSF program in jeopardy, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph. Britain was expected to buy about 50 of the planes, the Telegraph reported.

Jim Murphy, the shadow defense secretary, said, "An island nation like ours should be able to operate aeroplanes from an aircraft carrier. The government must come clean on the full impact of the defense review. It's essential we know how long we will be without carrier strike capability," according to the Telegraph report.

Just last week, the U.S. Marine Corps reported it welcomed its first F-35B into its fleet. The first Marine jets will be used for training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Corps said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the website Jalopnik reports that aircraft carriers also make great automobile carriers and save the Navy money in the process.

Photos from the USS Ronald Reagan show its flight deck loaded with the personal vehicles of sailors as the carrier travels along the West Coast to Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Washington, where the carrier will undergo maintenance.

And the saving money part?

"First, the only other way to get vehicles owned by Navy sailors to their final destinations is to put them in another ship. Second, if they didn't send soldiers' vehicles they'd have to pay for transportation at the final destination. Both of which would absolutely cost more money," Jalopnik points out.

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Filed under: Marines • Military • Pentagon • U.S. Navy • United Kingdom
soundoff (455 Responses)
  1. mcp123

    Get rid of one aircraft carrier? Wow thats cutting to the bone. The fact is they all should be gotten rid of... they are as obsolete as battleships were in the Pearl Harbor attack. The danger now...not planes but fast ocean skimming missiles or ballistic missiles hitting the ship at high speed from orbit.

    Bam... tens of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer dollars at the bottom of the ocean. Here's a concept...we have in flight refueling and the capacity to make a small airport for small air combat groups almost anywhere in the world. Use that capability... we don't need floating cities that cost $ 8 billion (the Gerald Ford now under construction). What we need is small easily built fast attack craft and missile ships built for a different kind of engagement.

    January 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • J

      Carriers are as much a symbol as a war fighting tool.

      Sure, there are ways to damage them, but how many of our enemies have ICBMs capable of orbital strike. Really now.

      And even if someone did have such capability, and did strike a carrier with it.... that country would be reduced to rubble within a week.

      January 16, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Turoq

      Correction, reduced to rubble within a day, that is if the current president when that happens has a backbone.

      January 16, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Knippel

      You have absolutely no comprehension of the necessity to maintain air superiority, which is critical to the success of fundamentally all military operations. Aircraft carriers are mobil air superiority platforms which provide both long range offense and defense capability, for which there is no replacement

      January 16, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • mdgirl134

      You also need to think of the fact not only are they trying to cut down on carriers, but they are cutting down on personnel as well. My boyfriend has served for 8 1/2 years and on his return from Afghanistan last year the Navy told him and many others that they might want to think about what they are going to do after the Navy. Come September he will no longer be employed by the United States Navy. Men and women give their lives to the military and this is what they are now doing to them.

      January 16, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. 2LateNow

    As for the F35, just a 100 billion dollar contract mod for something that was already supposed to work. Of course congress won't hold a campaign-contributing-contractor accountable for a MAJOR screw up. ( We've only been landing on carriers for more than a half-century now; give 'em a break.) Congress's next major goal is a light bulb that uses the large majority of its electricity consumption to produce heat vice light. I'm sure somebody can come up with a better design than Edison.

    January 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Grouch

    Is "Billions" the best CNN can do at estimating the yearly cost of one carrier? How about, instead of simply copying from such renowned journalistic sources as the Washington Times, the reporter does a little research and add some value to the story?

    January 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chartreuxe

    Indeed, why not make a longer hook?

    January 16, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dean

      That is what I was thinking. Make the damn thing telescoping if need be.

      I was a Hydraulics Mechanic on F-4 Phantoms and worked on many a tailhook, not the most complicated piece of equipment, there has to be a simple solution.

      January 16, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Animenut

    Time to go with Jeep carriers again. Crews of 500, with 15 to 25 aircraft. High speed.

    January 16, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sagebrush Shorty

    If the bombers get airborne during a real nuclear war then the carriers mission is accomplished.

    January 16, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. paul1121

    I dont know what the big suprise is; the Navy has been transporting servicemen's cars on their warships for decades. If you get stationed in Guam or Italy, for example, got to have your wheels.

    January 16, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lostraven

    When my husband's ship made a port change from Norfolk, to San Diego, not only did they take one of our cars onboard the ship, (I had to drive the other and contend with three young children by myself for five days.....NOT FAIR!) but they also took a large portion of our household goods. It was nice, quick, easy and didn't cost us or the Navy, anywhere near as much as it would have cost to do ship everything over land. We also had our stuff a lot quicker and amazingly enough, nothing was broke or missing.

    Also if you look closely at the picture, you will see that many of the pick-up's on the deck, are also loaded. Again more money being saved and no waiting for your stuff when you get where your going.

    January 16, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. IND

    This article is garbage and relies on speculation on technical matters of someone who writes news for a living. These are complex Engineering issues that have been summed up with someone with little or no understanding of what is happening to design this aircraft or even a notion of the real expense of maintaining a fleet. Would you go to a preacher to get heart surgery done? Stick to the facts, and at least try to research a topic or ask an expert before writing an article. I would expect this nonsense for an editorial source but not CNN. Next time you print such garbage try getting 5 year olds to read it. The rest of us would appreciate the whole story and less of someones ignorant editorial.

    January 16, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. KeithTexas

    We can cut back to 9 without any problem

    January 16, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. GonzoG

    My uncle was a helicopter electronics tech (sorta kinda) in the Navy in the 1960's. When his command got moved from San Diego to Hawaii, they just loaded all the cars onto the helicopter carrier he was on and loaded them off in Hawaii.

    January 16, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Yellow Caboose

    It would have been better if the carrier would only transport "US" car company cars. The others dumped... When I was walking by the White House I noticed the majority of the vehicles where not from US manufactuers. – so sad.

    January 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mike

    Modern warfare does not need a large military as it does a more technologically capable military. Honestly, we should keep the carriers because they support this very measure, and instead downgrade our overall size of conventional land units (like tanks, APC, etc). Like it or not, we don't need as many of these types of units anymore, and our military HEMORRHAGES money. Keep the carriers, adapt the JSF to land on carriers, and slash alot of the surplus ground units. Sure military ppl lose their jobs, but civilians have been losing jobs for 5 years, times they are a changing.

    January 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Arthur58

    Our Aircraft Cariers are the greatest instrument for and of Peace in the world. Look how many distasters the navy carrier have come to in the last ten years. As for the F-35, I have not heard that they have done Arrested landing at Pax as of yet. I read they did fix the hook to cable mis-match, as was as fix on the launch fitting on the nose gear. I believe that they did some arrested landings with the Prototype. Going back in history, there were many new Naval aircraft that had initial problems with carrier landings. Some were the F8U and the A4D's. Stealth is everything, and the Navy has none. The F-35B looked very good on its Sea Trials.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. PaulBel

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I sure as hell would think twice (or more) about closing any strategic body of water if I know a carrier battle group was stationed a hundred miles off my coast. Carriers are a vital part of our defensive, and yes, offensive capabilities. And they are not just for fighting – they can act as a hub for disaster relief, search and rescue and emergency transport. I say keep the carriers at 11, if not more.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
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